The UFC lightweight division was shaken up in the month of July as a new champion was crowned on July 7 when Eddie Alvarez stopped reigning champion Rafael dos Anjos in the first round at UFC Fight Night 90. The bout result was an upset according to the oddsmakers and has thrown the division into a bit of uncertainty in terms of what's next.
According to the top-ranked lightweight in the division, however, the choice of who Alvarez should face next is pretty clear.
"For me, it's nothing changed because I always have only one goal. This is that. [Edson] Barboza, Eddie, RDA, Tony [Ferguson], it doesn't matter. To me, it's no problem. I have to take my belt. I want to fight for the title," he said on Monday's The MMA Hour.
The issue, it appears, is Alvarez is clamoring for the winner of UFC 202's Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor bout. Diaz is not ranked as highly Nurmagomedov and it's not clear what McGregor's next move will be after his August rematch. Nowhere does the Dagestani lightweight fit into Alvarez's wishes.
Interestingly enough, however, it's not as if Nurmagomedov is all that excited to face Alvarez either, albeit for different reasons.
"Now, Eddie is champion. For me, Eddie is [not] interesting," Nurmagomedov confessed. "For me, interesting is title fight. I have to to take this belt. That's why I want to fight now with Eddie, but to be honest with you, Eddie is not interesting for me. But now Eddie is champion. That's why I want to fight with him."
Nurmagomedov explained he was moderately interested in a rematch with dos Anjos had he remained champion. The two have old history together from 2014 when he defeated the Brazilian via unanimous decision. RDA, so he's been told, has improved considerably since then. As for Alvarez, 'The Eagle' doesn't think much of him, only the object he holds around his waist.
"Before when he fight with dos Anjos, dos Anjos was, not too much, but a little bit interesting because people talk about he change after my last fight with him. People talk about this, but I beat dos Anjos already," he said. "That's why dos Anjos not interesting for me, too, but now, Eddie's champion. Before when he fight with dos Anjos, Eddie's not interesting for me, too, but now he have belt.
"It doesn't matter who is champion," Nurmagomedov noted. "I want to take this belt."
In fact, not only does Nurmagomedov not particularly care for a fight with Alvarez for any reason other than the belt, he was surprised when Alvarez won in the first round against dos Anjos. Nurmagomedov said, however, that it's not because the new champion is a better fighter. As he saw it, Alvarez simply got lucky.
"I watched this fight. I sit down very close [to the] cage. To be honest with you, I am little bit surprised about this, but I think he little bit lucky in this fight because dos Anjos better fighter than him.
"When he throw first punch, right overhand, and after that dos Anjos don't understand what happened in the fight because after first punch, he trouble him," Nurmagomedov explained. "I think he little bit lucky in this fight."
That luck is what Nurmagomedov believes Alvarez now wants to carry through into his next fight. He argued Alvarez wants a fight with the winner of McGregor vs. Diaz to make money, but also to avoid a challenge he and his coaches know they can't handle.
"I think he want make money, fight with McGregor or Nate Diaz, but I am defending," Nurmagomedov said of Alvarez. "He want a little bit enjoy with belt, something like this, but UFC give him title fight when he had 2-1 record in UFC. He lost first fight and after that he win. He have two-win streak and UFC give him fight because he is no. 1 ranked. Now, I am the no. 1 ranked fighter in lightweight division. That's why UFC has to give me my title shot and he have to take this fight.
"I don't understand why he don't fight with me, but I think because I can make him tired, I can make him takedown and I can make him finish, I think he understand this," he continued. "I think he and his whole coaches understand I am on different level. He don't fight with me. This is 100 percent."
To be sure, Nurmagomedov said he is also campaigning behind the scenes. "I send for message for Dana [White]. I say I wanna fight for the belt because I deserve this. I deserve this. All my career I'm undefeated," he noted. He argued unlike every other lightweight contender, only he is undefeated in his career. If for no other reason than that, he deserves the next crack at the belt.
"All these guys - Barboza, Tony, dos Anjos - everybody lose. I have never lose," he said. "I think UFC have to give me title shot."
As for Ferguson, who is coming off of a hard-fought win over Lando Vannata earlier this month, Nurmagomedov dismissed his potential as a title contender saying the Californian talks more than he earns in the cage. When they had a chance to fight, Nurmagomedov said, it wasn't him who ultimately couldn't make, although that's only true of the last attempt at putting together the fight.
"Fighters talk about Tony. Other guys talk about I don't beat in my last fight, top 10 fighter, but this is not my problem. UFC give me fight with Tony 16 April. I fight 16 April, but Tony don't coming. This is not my problem. Tony have problem. Tony have injury. Tony is still out. When I out, I am all the time staying quiet and waiting when I come back, but Tony talk too much about the situation," he claimed.
In the end, Nurmagomedov said it comes down to resume. No one else can claim to have done what he's done. No one else is ranked more highly, no one else is as deserving. Whether a fight with Alvarez is personally interesting to him is a different matter. The belt is and he stated affirmatively no one else should come close to fighting for it next.
"I think I am no. 1 ranked and I deserve this title shot," he reiterated. "Barboza, Tony, other guys, I don't know about these guys. I am no. 1 ranked, I am the undefeated, 23-0. It's why 100 percent UFC have to give me title shot."